Association Congress

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Chairman Part 2

Last week I blogged about the importance of the Chairman and the role they play as conductor / ring master in your conference. In essence it was about giving your Chairman more responsibility for the day. It wasn’t shifting some tasks, shunned by the lazy organiser, and thrusting them unwelcomingly onto the Chairman’s shoulders; but more of an allocation of important things owing to each others’ particular skills.
With this duel responsibility we have to give the Chairman a strong element of control and I’ve thought about this as I prepare to chair a stream at the Association Congress next month. Here’s a link to that event again. For any conference programme to ‘work’ i.e. to take delegates from one place to another having ‘learned some knowledge that they can apply’, we have to use one particular key tool.
Identifying and using key themes throughout the day is the most important tool a programme developer and their chairs can use to structure the days sessions. These themes should be woven into every session like the gold thread in a medieval tapestry. As well as giving some structure to the day they should also give context for every session. Now this is an important point. When we look at a conference programme we can see a huge variety of topics to be covered; and when you are a delegate shifting from the micro to the macro, or the national to the international it’s easy to get lost.
Making sure all your speakers see and agree with the key themes should provide some kind of rough road map that will keep everything going in the right direction. Here are some key themes from a recent Directors’ staff away day that I put together. Every speaker was given these themes before they start to structure their presentation:
·         The external economic crisis
·         External stakeholders   
·         Change is ahead
·         Reduced funding from Government
·         New revenue streams
Given to speakers a month or so before their session this gentle steer really helped the structure and consistency of the programme on the day. In this example the themes were put together by the Chairman and the programme developer working together and I believe this is the very minimum input that your Chairman should have with this type of briefing. If you have the right Chairman he / she should understand the topics extremely well. And as they are likely to be their peers, they should be very close to the content too. That’s if you have the right Chairman of course.  
Next steps?
So my first suggestion is that for every conference you are running you should ask your Chairman to come up with four or five key themes. They may be different or similar to the ones you have picked out and focused on in your event marketing but that’s not a problem and it can be done in five minutes. Once you have the themes you can come up with something which you can send to every speaker. The link is a live brief; it’s actually the one I have developed for next July’s Association Congress. You can get a sneak preview (before hopefully you copy the idea) here: Chairman's briefing for speakers.
I developed my model after speaking at a conference chaired by Elling Hamso from the Event ROI. He provided something similar to all the speakers and was a chair who truly understood the role of the Ring Master. And I hope the info over the last two Blogs will help you understand the role and give you confidence to appoint and control the right Chairman.

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